Ergonomics: what it is and what are its 4 types and functions

Ergonomics: what it is and what are its 4 types and functions

Imagine that we work in an office eight hours a day in front of a computer, but that the company arranged the computer screens at the same height as our legs.

It would obviously be an uncomfortable situation, and could even cause us back and/or visual problems. Let us now think about jobs that require concentration, such as that of a surgeon. Not having the right light could have catastrophic consequences. Finally, let us imagine that we have a physical disability and that we are provided with a chair that is smaller than our own dimensions, or that is exaggeratedly inclined.

In all cases, we are seeing how the existence or absence of certain elements can modulate the efficiency and degree of difficulty of carrying out a task or using a service. It is with a view to preventing and being able to solve this type of situation that ergonomics are necessary .

What is ergonomics?

As indicated by the Spanish Association of Ergonomics, ergonomics is the name given to the body of knowledge from different scientific disciplines which is applied to adapt products, systems or environments to the needs and characteristics of the people who use them .

This is a scientific discipline of great importance when it comes to ensuring the safety and suitability of goods, services and environments to the needs of the people who use them, taking charge of assessing the characteristics of the users or workers and of the products or environments in question in order to be able to establish the necessary changes to optimise this relationship as much as possible.

Ergonomics aims to improve the level of safety, well-being and efficiency of workers or customers, increasing the quality of life while improving productivity . Likewise, it also aims to control the environment, to optimise the adjustment of the characteristics of the post or product to the needs of the person and to detect and solve threats to their well-being.

The type of knowledge that is taken into account to achieve these objectives is multiple: medicine, anatomy, psychology, engineering or design are some of the disciplines from which ergonomics takes concepts and knowledge in order to perform its function.

Its application at work

As indicated above, one of the main areas of application of ergonomics is the working environment.

In this sense, the aim is to make materials, instruments, clothing or even work environments as safe as possible, as well as to enhance the skills and productivity of employees. The aim is also to produce a healthy and motivating work environment , which favours employee satisfaction and allows them to carry out their functions correctly.

Aspects such as luminosity, exposure to noise, size of the rooms, temperature, use of appropriate clothing and that allows the protection of the employee in case his work involves any danger, separation of light sources, position of materials and instruments (for example chair-table separation or inclination of the chair back) are evaluated.

And not just about what’s present: it has also been evaluated the possible effect and suitability of the introduction of new methodologies and instruments by the employees. Body posture, schedules and breaks, and the instruments themselves are other important aspects.

In the case of more specific needs, such as disability or functional diversity, the aim is to generate adaptations that will ensure that there is no impairment that prevents the normal performance of their functions without difficulties.

Taking into account the ergonomic design of the workplace and the materials has great advantages, since it allows to reduce the possibility of occupational diseases and injuries and accidents . It also reduces absenteeism and increases production, well-being, commitment and work climate.

In other contexts

It is generally associated with the workplace, where it is most often emphasized because of the responsibility for the safety and well-being of employees, although it also applies to the design and manufacture of products and consumer goods .

In addition, the knowledge of this discipline is also used for the adaptation of materials and work environments or the evaluation and prevention of problems (e.g. health problems) in these and other contexts.

Types of ergonomics

Ergonomics is a diverse discipline, which deals with different aspects of reality and the relationship or adequacy of the person-product-environment. This wide diversity allows us to value the existence of different types of ergonomics . Although there are many more, the four best known are the following.

1. Physical ergonomics

When we talk about ergonomics, most people imagine the physical suitability of the environment or the products. It is the one in charge of assessing the work material, the body posture during the working hours or the spaces in order to avoid the appearance of physical problems or to facilitate the performance at work, especially taking into account the physiological/mechanical factor.

2. Cognitive Ergonomics

This type of ergonomics is very different from the previous one, being focused on the implications and the adequacy of the position or product to the capabilities and psychological needs of the subject.

We are talking about aspects such as the management of stress and the presence of devices or services to reduce it, the workload , the treatment of the emotional impact of some positions (for example the surgeon of the initial example) or the interaction between the materials and the cognitive capacities of the subject.

3. Organizational Ergonomics

In this case we are before a type of ergonomics centered no longer on the relationship between subject and work post but on the relationship between subject and institution. In this sense, we analyze the activities carried out by each one, the management of human resources or the internal communication of the company.

4. Environmental ergonomics

Dedicated to the evaluation and assignment of spaces, it evaluates elements such as noise or the level of luminosity or temperature that may affect the subject.

Bibliographic references:

  • Spanish Association of Ergonomics (n.d.) What is ergonomics? Available at: http://www.ergonomos.es/ergonomia.php.

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